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Rumen fluid extraction made easy

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 31 December 2012
Dave Roitt uses the Rumen-Mate

“For years and years, we’ve all known the very best thing for a sick cow is to receive healthy rumen fluid,” says Bernie Mulder, founder of Drench-Mate.

Yet, until now, there hasn’t been an easy way to obtain that fluid.

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The creators of Drench-Mate, a self-contained drenching system, have recently released their newest product, Rumen-Mate. This product can not only be used for drenching a cow with rumen fluid, but also for the extraction of healthy rumen fluid from a donor cow.

“I like the idea behind it,” says Dr. Garth Millard. “It’s a simple process to remove the rumen fluid without disrupting the fermentative process of the rumen.”

Millard, a veterinarian for Vet Logic, Inc. in southwest Idaho, has been using this product since it was released on the market this summer.

Why rumen fluid?
Mulder explains that when a cow goes off feed and water, her rumen contents begin to deplete. This reduction in nutritional support for the microbes that live in the rumen lead to their death and potentially catastrophic changes to the rumen environment.

After losing an integral part of her digestive system, the cow’s nutritional needs can no longer be met to sustain milk production, reproduction, body condition and even life itself.

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Healthy rumen fluid contains the bacteria and enzymes her system needs to boost or rebuild the necessary population of microbes in her rumen.

“Transfaunation, the act of moving rumen fluid from one cow to another, is most beneficial when the donor cow is on the same or nearly the same diet as the sick cow,” Mulder says.

She is more likely to go right back on feed because the healthy rumen fluid contains volatile fatty acids and B vitamins that can act as an appetite stimulant – and she now has energy and the proper bacteria and enzymes to break down the feed presented to her.

Millard cites a study where a group of cows was given 11 litres (3 gallons) of rumen fluid immediately after displaced abomasum (DA) surgery.

They received a second 11-litre dose 24 hours later. A second group of cows was given 11 litres of warm tap water at the same intervals after surgery. The cows were monitored for milk production and feed intake.

In that five-day monitoring period, the average cow given rumen fluid produced 18 kilograms more milk and consumed 59 kilograms more dry matter than the average control cow. The transfaunated cows also required fewer treatments to correct the ketosis that accompanies an abomasal displacement.

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There are many products available in the marketplace today that can be used to drench a cow – from vitamins and minerals to electrolytes and probiotics – but you cannot buy healthy rumen fluid, Mulder says.

Because many of the bacteria in rumen fluid are anaerobic in nature, they degenerate when exposed to air. “As soon as you harvest the fluid, the clock starts ticking,” he says. He also adds that it seems to be impossible to manufacture rumen fluid in a commercial pharmaceutical setting.

The idea of using rumen fluid is not new. Researchers have been extracting rumen fluid for the past six or seven decades.

Plus, around 100 dairies in North America have at least one fistulated cow for this purpose and have been extracting rumen fluid to administer to sick cows.

However, current methods used for harvest are cumbersome to the employee and disruptive to the cow, Mulder says. He adds, “The Rumen-Mate allows for fluid to be harvested efficiently, cleanly and safely.”

How it works
A cow’s rumen contents are stratified into three layers –gas cap, fibre mat and fluid slurry. Once the cannula plug is removed, the extraction wand is placed into the rumen and through the gas cap and fibre mat until it rests in the fluid at the bottom.

The wand is designed to extract fluid from both the fibre mat and liquid slurry simultaneously. A hand pump is used to suck the fluid into the 23-litre (6-gallon) holding bucket while the double-screen design of the extraction wand keeps large fibre particles out of the fluid.

The harvested rumen fluid is then transported to the sick cow and two valves are turned to convert it to a pump. The hand pump and drench tube are used to administer the healthy rumen fluid.

“It’s all a one-handed operation,” Millard states.

He notes that this method maintains the three layers of the rumen, while other methods remove the fibre and fluid from the rumen.

Not only are old methods smelly for the handler, because the odour of rumen fluid tends to linger on skin, but it also completely disrupts the fermentative process for the cow.

When the fibre and fluid are replaced in the donor cow she must work to re-establish her three layers.

“We’re able to collect from the cow more often and allow her to be stable in her individual health,” Millard says of this new method.

Mulder says his research shows that a total of 23 to 34 litres (6 to 9 gallons) of rumen fluid can be harvested over two to three periods in a single day from a fistulated cow and “she won’t skip a beat.” She can still be a milk producer in the herd.

He estimates that harvested rumen fluid must be administered to a sick cow within one hour, two at the most, depending on the ambient temperature.

Mulder also recommends administering a dose of rumen fluid two days in a row.

Additional uses
Healthy rumen fluid is not just for cows that have a dead rumen; any cow with decreased dry matter intake could benefit, Mulder says.

“This transcends a single diagnosis on the dairy and can be used for any cow that is off feed,” Millard mentions.

One of Millard’s clients also used rumen fluid from a healthy cow to treat 4-month-old heifer calves during a coccidiosis outbreak. The calves that received the fluid were better off than those that did not, he says.

Drenching with rumen fluid is a natural treatment. It does not require withholding milk or meat and has the potential to be more accepted by the general public than the use of antibiotics.

“This is the kind of thing the industry is looking for,” Mulder says.

Back on the farm, Millard says, “It is good for everybody involved, from the person who has to collect the fluid to the donor cow and the cow that receives it.”

Rumen-Mate sells for $599. To use it also requires the investment for a veterinarian to surgically fistulate a cow, which can cost around $400 to $500, Mulder estimates.

One benefit Millard likes about this product is that it is a one-time investment. “Most things you buy for a dairy you have to keep buying. There is no ongoing investment here,” he says. “A dairyman can treat hundreds or thousands of cows, and they don’t incur an additional expense each time.”

Achieving payback on this purchase can be done in a number of ways: less time to reach increased milk production, no waste milk, possible reduction in other medications used, no feed wasted on an animal that isn’t milking and not culling the cow.

“It doesn’t take very long at all to pay this off; just getting one cow up to eat could cover the cost,” Millard says.  PD

For more information about this product, contact Drench-Mate at (360) 988-5020. At the Canadian Dairy XPO in Stratford, Ontario, Feb. 6-7, Drench-Mate will perform a live demonstration of transfaunation to show how the product works.

PHOTO
Dave Roitt uses the Rumen-Mate to extract rumen fluid from a donor cow at Teunissen Dairy in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Drench-Mate.

YOUR RESULTS
Would you benefit from this type of rumen fluid extraction?
The following checklist can be used to determine if this new technology might be a fit for your operation.

1. Do your cows occasionally go off feed?
2. Are surgeries performed for displaced abomasums on any of your cows?
3. Do you drench your cows with manufactured supplements?
4. Have you wanted to try treating cows with feed-related health issues with rumen fluid?
5. Are you looking for a natural treatment method?
6. Do you operate an organic dairy?
7. Do you have a fistulated cow in your herd?
8. Would you like to get your sick cows back into production sooner?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, this technology may be one for you to consider.

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